Kathy Cross

Kathy Cross is shown with Christmas break bags designed to help students across Jackson County during the Christmas holiday break.


By Jim Buchanan

Kathy Cross, who had served as United Christian Ministries director for 18 years, died Aug. 17 at age 69.

Community leaders and UCM have come forward to offer their thoughts on her considerable legacy.

Colleagues describe Cross as a diligent, hardworking, caring woman possessed of a no-nonsense attitude. Digging a little deeper, a picture emerges of a woman who knew her clients and knew their needs, backward and forward, a woman who knew how to make connections with various governmental and service groups to make sure those needs were met.

And all along the way UCM evolved and grew. Because of the nature of its services, which run the gamut from providing Thanksgiving turkeys to Christmas break bags and include providing food, household goods, hygiene care, cleanings supplies, personal care items, furniture, and some financial assistance, or matching up a person with needs to another organization, it’s hard to pin down the exact number of people served over the years. But John Bell of Cullowhee Baptist Church notes, “Files included information on over 7,000 clients.”

He added, “And I never saw a client come in that Kathy did not know something of their needs.”

To get a grasp of the scale of UCM’s, mission, here is some data from the year 2018:

• Client contacts: 10,423.

• Pounds of food given out: 271,670.

• Christmas school break bags delivered across Jackson County in December: 450.

• Thanksgiving meals provided: 130 households.

• Financial aid for electric bills: $33,448.78.

• Financial aid with rent to avoid eviction: $9,918.50.

• Financial aid for medical assistance: $1,266.78.

• Families assisted with clothing: 626.

• First-time clients: 208.

All of this ran out of the “Little House With The Big Heart’’ at 191 Skyland Drive, Sylva. And for many years, it was all run under the leadership of Kathy Cross.

Micki Kaye, former UCM board member, said “Kathy was a faithful servant and diligent in her stewardship of donations to the ministry entrusted to her care. It was a true honor to assist her in any way I could, either on the Board or as a volunteer. The ministry will go on, but I know her shoes will be hard to fill.

“Rest well, good and faithful servant.”

– John Bell, former board member and volunteer

Kathy had a remarkable concern for clients. During high unemployment requests for help with rent, medical care, and utilities increased. She pushed to have the budget increased for these items.

– Cindy Parker, current board member and volunteer

It was a blessing to me to have been able to serve under Kathy Cross. Kathy will be greatly missed by our clients and others who knew her.

– Pastor Blake Daniel, 

   Sylva First Presbyterian Church,

   former board member:

Christians often talk a good game about being “salt and light” amid the world. Kathy lived it out. She wasn’t perfect (who is?), but she was faithful. And our community is a better place as a result.

– Gayle Woody, pantry volunteer

Kathy worked diligently to make sure that the food given was as fresh and healthy as possible. She knew our community and people so well that she often knew who wanted to cook fresh vegetables, and who wanted to get them from a can.

– Juanita Burrell, former board 

member and volunteer

One of the very special things she did was organizing the Children’s Meal Projects during the Christmas holidays, contacting the churches for food… youth from various churches came and assembled the boxes.

– Pastor Scott Carter, Webster Baptist Church, former board member

The greatest impact Kathy had on me personally was watching her work tirelessly to do two things: meet the needs of the needy of our community, and inform others that they could take part in doing something special for others.

– Pastor David Reeves, Cullowhee 

United Methodist Church

Her ability to stretch resources and “make much of little” is legendary. … she was honest, clear and direct and people appreciated that. You knew where you stood with Kathy. Because of her hard work and deep love of neighbor, thousands have had their suffering burdens lightened.

– Jan Staffebach and Sarah Henry, 

   Cashiers United Methodist Church

Each time Kathy called it was a pleasure to hear her sweet voice on the line. She was always genuinely concerned for the needs of clients and always promptly followed through any issues that arose. Kathy will be missed but never forgotten by CUMC.

– Jean Ward, volunteer

She had a vast knowledge of different agencies that she could refer clients to. Everyone who entered UCM was treated with dignity and was respected by Kathy.

– Betty Foti, former board member and volunteer

Kathy’s first priority was serving our clients. She taught me to protect their privacy and integrity.

– Shirley Kool, former board member and volunteer

Kathy was hired part time – 25 hours a week ... However, no one ever kept track, not even Chuck or Kathy, of how many evenings she stayed until 5 or 6 p.m., or how many weekends were involved with food drives or town events, or unloading the Manna Food Bank truck, or writing a grant application ... or Sundays spent speaking in churches or evenings at community agencies to encourage support, etc. How many miles were put on the van going to the Southern end of the county working with that pantry? It was a labor of love.

– Marcia Jones, interim director of UCM and volunteer

The kindness Kathy shared with UCM clients blessed Jackson County for many years.

– Pastor Jeff Mathis, First Baptist Church of Sylva, former board member

First Baptist has always been proud of our partnership with United Christian Ministries; Kathy provided good stewardship of the resources that were entrusted to her, and was a compassionate accountability partner to those who needed help. 

– Rev. John Reid, former board member

She had vision and put that vision to good use as she led UCM 20 years through growth in the physical facilities and increasing services. She had the compassion and ability to listen to human need and to respond in a Christian servanthood manner. She practiced this and modeled it with volunteer staff. She had the toughness required to say no in a gracious way when people tried to abuse the system.

– Annette Sutton, volunteer

She had an uncanny ability to discern when someone was being dishonest or attempting to obtain help when they didn’t really need it. She also had a wealth of knowledge about other agencies and knew where to refer clients for assistance that UCM was unable to provide. She dedicated many hours to UCM outside of the hours that clients are served.

– Rev. Eddie Stillwell, 

   longtime associate

Kathy was a warm, generous, and caring person. She was a caregiver of both parents till their death and her baby sister, Carolyn, who had special needs.

– Katerina Gardner, volunteer

(When Kathy) expressed her need for UCM volunteers, she also stated that the average age of a volunteer at UCM was 70. So a friend and I said, “we need to volunteer” and we have for approximately two years as pantry workers, thanks to Kathy.

– Micki Kaye, former board member

She devoted her time getting to know each person who walked in the door while listening attentively to what they said and more importantly what they did not say. She had a sixth sense for what they needed without them actually having to say it.

– Compiled by Cindy Parker